A police horse protection bill conceived by Montezuma County Sheriff Steve Nowlin was signed into law by Gov. John Hickenlooper on March 7.
The bill – Crime of Cruelty to Certified Police Working Horse – was sponsored by Montrose Republicans Rep. Marc Catlin and Sen. Don Coram. It boosts punishment for people who harm police horses from a misdemeanor offense to a Class 6 felony, the same for harming police dogs.
“It was really needed, because there was no serious consequence for assaulting or harming a police horse in the state,” said Nowlin, who recently implemented a mounted patrol program in the county and Dolores.
The new penalty for harming a police horse is six to 18 months in jail and a fine of $1,000 to $100,000. The law applies if the horse is harmed on- or off-duty. A second offense adds an anger management requirement.
Previously, harming a police horse was a misdemeanor under the animal cruelty law. The new law, House Bill 18-1041, adds language about cruelty to police horses to a statute protecting police dogs.
“Police canines have those extra protections, so should police horses,” Catlin said.
The new law gives a person who reports an incident of cruelty to a police horse immunity from civil liability, the same as for reporting cruelty to a police dog. Anyone who harms or kills a police horse would be required to pay restitution to the person or agency who owns the animal, including any immediate or ongoing veterinary expenses.
They must also pay replacement costs if the horse is killed as a result of cruelty incident. The court can also rule that the offender pay for training costs of the new horse.
“I was always amazed there was no law on this, so it has been one of my goals for a while,” Nowlin said. “These horses have very specialized training and are part of the law enforcement family.”
Nowlin traveled to Denver for the bill-signing ceremony, which included a photo op with the Denver mounted patrol, Hickenlooper, Catlin and Coram.
The bill had unanimous support, Nowlin said, and sailed through the Legislature.
“They said that had not happened in a long time,” he said. “It was a real honor, and they presented me the pen it was signed with. Catlin and Coram did a great job steering the bill through.”
Some examples of assaults on police horses include stabbings, running them down with vehicles and shooting them. None of Montezuma County’s patrol horses have been assaulted.
In Denver, Nowlin met with the newly restarted Denver Mounted Patrol, which was appreciative of the new law, as are other departments in the state who use horses, he said.
During one of the hearings for the bill, Nowlin was told the state Legislature took to some horsing around, calling for the entire chamber to all make horsey sounds together.
“I heard it was a pretty funny moment,” he said.
Mounted patrols are making a comeback, Nowlin said, because of the diversity of skills of the horse and as a community relations strategy. People, especially kids, like them, and the positive interaction with law enforcement has lasting benefits.
They also are helpful for festival patrols, backcountry crimes, and search and rescue events.
The Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office has three certified horses for mounted patrols, and there are horse stalls and training areas in Cortez and Dolores. Nowlin said that on Halloween, his department’s mounted patrol made their first DUI bust – officers on horseback followed a suspicious vehicle and flagged it down in Dolores.